Florida attorney general’s office says “Stand your ground” law does not apply to animals
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida––Rejecting a “stand-your-ground” defense, Palm Beach County judge Jeffrey Gillen on May 28, 2021 ordered P.J. Nilaja Patterson, 43, to stand trial on June 30, 2021, for alleged cruelty to an iguana whom Patterson beat, dragged, and kicked to death in Lake Worth, Florida, on September 2, 2020.
Patterson could be sentenced to serve up to five years in prison.
The case drew international attention, both for the rarity of a human being criminally charged for killing an iguana, a vegetarian reptile classed in Florida as an invasive species, and for the attempt of Patterson’s attorneys, Frank Vasconcelos and Carey Haughwout, to contend that the iguana posed a threat of “imminent death or great bodily harm” to Patterson.
Patterson, at 6’3”, 165 pounds, was at least ten times larger than the iguana, and according to security camera video, Patterson initiated the encounter.
“Put himself in position to be bitten”
Reported Amir Vera and Jamiel Lynch of CNN, “Vasconcelos and Haughwout said their client was trying to save an iguana from getting run over by cars,” but the iguana bit his arm, inflicting an injury that required 22 surgical staples to close.
“Assistant State Attorney Alexandra Dorman wrote in response to the motion to dismiss that the entire episode was captured in a 32-minute surveillance video,” Vera and Lynch continued.
Dorman “wrote that the video shows how Patterson tormented the iguana, which ‘was not bothering anyone and did not pose a threat to anyone.’ She said there was no provocation and no justification for the actions,” since Patterson “unnecessarily put himself in a position to be bitten.”
Added Dorman, “The State’s position is that stand-your-ground does not even apply to this case because the iguana is not a human being.”
Animal control advice led to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case
That interpretation of the Florida stand-your-ground law may come as a surprise to many Floridians, especially in view that the advice of an unidentified Seminole County animal control officer to George and Shellie Zimmerman in 2009 was prelude to the most famous of all stand-your-ground cases, the fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in a Sanford, Florida gated community.
Reported Chris Francescani of Reuters, “A pit bull named Big Boi began menacing George and Shellie Zimmerman [divorced in 2016] in the fall of 2009.
“The first time the dog ran free and cornered Shellie, George called the owner to complain. The second time, Big Boi frightened his mother-in-law’s dog. Zimmerman called Seminole County Animal Services and bought pepper spray. The third time he saw the dog on the loose, he called again. An officer came to the house, county records show.
“’Don’t use pepper spray,’ he told the Zimmermans, according to a friend. ‘It’ll take two or three seconds to take effect, but a quarter second for the dog to jump you,’ he said.
“Get a gun.”
“Get a gun” advice gains momentum
The advice to get a gun, shoot menacing dogs, and rely on a stand-your-ground defense if anyone objects is increasingly often amplified online––and understandably so, in view of more than 20 years of exponentially escalating human deaths and disfigurements from dog attacks and fatal dog attacks on pets and animals kept as livestock.
The record nine human dog attack fatalities in the single month of May 2021, at least four of them inflicted by pit bulls and two by Rottweilers, would have been a high toll for any whole year before 2000.
“Get a gun” echoed with renewed intensity in St. Petersburg, diagonally north across Florida from West Palm Beach just two days after Judge Gillen ruled against the stand-your-ground defense in the iguana case.
Pit bull mauls two men & a dog, but isn’t “dangerous” in St. Pete
Reported Jackie Callaway for WFTS-TV in Tampa, “A pit bull mix escaped his yard and attacked two men and one of their dogs in the St. Petersburg neighborhood of Bayou Shores in April. The victims contacted ABC Action News after county officials refused to declare the dog dangerous.
“Tony Metas said he was walking his dog Sammie down the street when a nearly 80-pound dog, named Roscoe, bounded over a neighbor’s backyard fence,” explained Callaway.
“I thought the dog was coming right at me. At the last second it diverted and attacked my dog,” Metas told Callaway.
Metas was bitten while defending his dog. Neighbor Jamie Woroner was also bitten when he came to the aid of Metas.
Metas’ dog Sammie suffered injuries to her stomach, groin, and leg area requiring 31 stitches and 13 staples to close.
Animal control chief claims defense of pet is “provocation”
But Pinellas County Animal Services chief James McGill contended to Callaway that Roscoe doesn’t qualify as a dangerous dog because, McGill claimed, Roscoe attacked Metas and Woroner only after they provoked him.
“He reacted to them interceding in the dog fight and attacked them,” McGill told Callaway.
Logging fatal & disfiguring dog attacks since 1982, well over 10,000 total, ANIMALS 24-7 cannot recall any previous case in which someone defending a pet, person, or livestock animal who was already under attack was alleged to have thereby “provoked” the attacking dog.
Florida precedent, meanwhile, whether or not the “stand-your-ground” law pertains to animals, is that a someone whose animal is being attacked by a dog, or is himself or herself under attack by a dog, or is defending another person, may shoot the attacking dog.
Thus, had either Metas or Woroner simply shot Roscoe, McGill’s opinion that self-defense or defense of one’s own dog constitutes “provocation” would have been irrelevant.
Pit bull shooter fined in Buffalo
Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan on June 1, 2021 sentenced Timothy S. Manning, 52, of South Buffalo, New York, to a one-year conditional discharge, contingent on his doing 100 hours of community service and paying a $500 fine, for shooting a neighbor’s pit bull on April 16, 2020.
Wrote Buffalo News reporter Keith McShea, “His attorney last fall said that Manning shot the dog in self-defense after he allegedly saw the pit bull go after an older man who was walking a dog and the pit bull turned on Manning.”
That would have been a valid defense, had witnesses affirmed it, but Manning pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals after neither the older man nor any other witnesses to the purported attack could be found.
30 civilian-shot-dog cases per year
It is not unusual that dog owners demand that people who shoot their dogs in defense of themselves, other humans, or other animals be prosecuted. Such incidents occur about 30 times per year, according to the ANIMALS 24-7 archives.
It is relatively rare, however, that such cases are prosecuted.
A fairly typical case of this sort occurred on May 30, 2021 in Ogden, Utah, when a pit bull and a Rottweiler belonging to Joshua Barton and his wife, Jessica Pennington, escaped from their yard and ran into a neighbor’s yard.
A surveillance video, reported Mike Anderson of KSL-TV, shows the pit bull “|walking to the house two doors down. Roughly eight to nine seconds later, a single gunshot is heard.”
Complained Barton, “Eight seconds is kind of a quick time to react to shoot a dog,” Barton said. “What if our daughter let him out and chased him into their back yard, and he [the shooter] tried to shoot the dog and hit our kid or someone else’s kid?”
But what if small children were in the shooter’s yard? Eight seconds is more than enough time for a pit bull or Rottweiler to kill someone, as the Seminole County animal control officer advised George and Shellie Zimmerman back in 2009, when he told them to “Get a gun.”
Continued Anderson, “Ogden police said the neighbors reported being in their backyard when the pit bull came running over. One of them ran inside to grab his gun before shooting.
“Lt. Brian Eynon with the Ogden Police Department told KSL-TV that Utah law does allow a homeowner to shoot a dog who comes onto his/her property in self-defense.”
Grab a fire extinguisher
ANIMALS 24-7, however, does not recommend trying to shoot a suspected attacking dog if something else can be done to stop the attack.
Based on the outcomes of the thousands of dog attack incidents in the ANIMALS 24-7 archives, a firearm has about an 80% chance of stopping a dog attack with a single shot, before anyone is injured, but a fire extinguisher has about a 70% chance of accomplishing the same result, without killing the attacking dog.
Deploying a fire extinguisher against an attacking dog, moreover, does not present even a fraction of the risk of killing or injuring someone with an errant shot or ricochet.
This occurs often, especially when inexperienced shooters try to shoot a charging dog under the stress of a crisis situation.
Wild shots in Houston
Such a situation developed in Houston on May 30, 2021, culminating in the arrest of Angelia Mia Vargas, 24, for firing three wild shots from a small-caliber pistol at a six-month-old boxer named Bruno who escaped from a house half a block away and ran toward Vargas, her five-year-old son, and her husband, according to neighbors and a surveillance video.
The Vargas family were apparently teaching the five-year-old to ride a bicycle in front of their home.
Reported Miya Shay of KRTK television, “In Ring doorbell video obtained by ABC13, you can see Bruno running out with the owner following immediately behind. The owner can be seen telling the dog to come back in the house. The dog roams out onto the street,” dashing at the Vargas family from behind a parked car, “and less than a second later, multiple shots rang out. Gunshots were then followed by extended screaming by the little boy’s parents.”
One of the three shots ricocheted off the pavement and struck the five-year-old in the abdomen. Police said he was rushed to the hospital “in stable condition with non-life threatening wounds,” Shay summarized.
Bruno the boxer was grazed on his left hind leg by one shot. His owner was cited for allowing Bruno to run at large, a Class C misdemeanor.
Several similar incidents have had fatal consequences.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on September 17, 2019 agreed to pay $3 million to the family of Armando Garcia, 17, killed by an accidental ricochet on June 22, 2017 when two sheriff’s deputies shot at a 73-pound pit bull who had already bitten a third deputy and according to the incident report was again charging them.
The shots were fired from a distance of five to seven feet from the charging pit bull. Garcia was 40 feet away, around a corner, out of sight of the deputies.
About three and a half months later, Patricia Crosby, 53, of Detroit, Michigan, was on October 9, 2017 shot dead by neighbor Michael Williams, 61, who was trying to protect her from a pit bull attack.
Cashus Dean Case, 44, of Seaside, Oregon, on July 24, 2018 rescued neighbor Rick Derby from a pit bull mauling, but was shot dead by responding police officers who reportedly arrived to find Case, a convicted felon, waving two black powder pistols and shouting. Derby credited Case with saving his life.
Margarita “Maggie” Victoria Brooks, 30, of Arlington, Texas, on August 1, 2019 was fatally struck by a ricochet from a shot fired at her charging pit bull by a rookie police officer.
A neighbor who on February 5, 2020 tried to use a crossbow to save Joshua Jadusingh, 27, of Adams, Massachusetts, from an attack by his own two pit bulls, instead accidentally killed Jadusingh when the crossbow bolt reportedly ricocheted through a door.